An Interpretation Activity

Ancient Tablets, Ancient Graves:
Accessing Women's Lives in Mesopotamia



Answer Key: Phrases or ideas about women in the “Ancient Tablets” activity

• Where women had some authority

#1) Shub-ad was a queen whose elite burial indicates her high status.
#2) Another queen mentioned, Shagshag, who also had authority as a high priestess. The extent of her economic control is indicated.
#3) The important status of a daughter of a king, in this case the famous Enheduanna, who could become a high priestess and be as highly educated as any male priest or member of the scribal class.
#4) Again, the fact that daughters of the king learned to read and write and could assert themselves to try and get what they wanted.
#5) Ishtar presents a female role model who is all powerful. Also, the fact that goddesses were deemed to be as important as male gods may have given ordinary human women some stature within their communities. Goddess based religions generally were more favorable toward women than were those dominated by male gods.
#6) A female merchant who seems to have some authority within the family business.
#7) Hammurabi Codes supporting the rights of women include #131, #142.

• Treatment of slave women

#1) slaves killed and buried with queen.
#2) mention of large numbers of slave women as both domestic and craft producing workers.
#4) The off hand, even cruel, reference by the royal daughter Erishti-Aya about the death of two of her slave women. (A good place to discuss the sharp class distinctions that have existed throughout most of history. Do they still exist? Does slavery still exist?)

• The types of work women engaged in

#1) mention of musicians who often were female.
#2) list of jobs mainly done by women. (good place to discuss what other types of work women might do, and the importance of women’s work to the general economy).
#3) Enheduanna’s description of her tasks as high priestess.
#6) female business woman’s letter.
#7) Laws referring to female wine sellers, owners of taverns. Also the fact that women had access to their own dowry indicates a source of income for her.

• Things women complained about

#3) Enheduanna’s loss of power when she is stripped of her position as high priestess and exiled.
#4) priestesses whose families are not supporting them as had been arranged (and were required in Mesopotamia). Also a king’s daughter who mentions the fact that her parents forced her to become a nun.
#6) Money that is owed a business woman.
#7) Indications in the Hammurabi Codes that women complained about their husbands quite publicly.

• Laws that protect women’s rights

#7) Hammurabi Codes supporting the rights of women include #131, #142.

• Laws that parallel and contrast with ours re marriage

#7) Hammurabi Code #141 and #142 indicate that men and women could seek divorce because of incompatibility, desertion, and so forth. Law #131 indicates that proof is needed to accuse women of wrong doing within marriage.
Laws that contrast with ours:
#141. Right to divorce seems to rest solely with male, and can include behavior such as a wife simply leaving house, as well as acting badly. Also wife gets no “alimony” in this case.
#138. Grounds for divorce on fact that wife hasn’t produced male heirs. (good place to discuss practice in many places throughout history).
#142. Mention here, and in other laws, of practice of dowry. And in law #138 the words “her purchase money” which means the husband gave her parents money upon the marriage (bride price). (Since both bride price and dowry are mentioned in this law, it is a good place to discuss the difference between the two practices).

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Women in World History Curriculum